North Korean servicemen march in Pyongyang, August 10 2018. Picture: KCNA/REUTERS
North Korean servicemen march in Pyongyang, August 10 2018. Picture: KCNA/REUTERS

Seoul — North Korea says ongoing joint military exercises between Seoul and Washington are an “all-out challenge” to moves towards peace on the Korean peninsula.

The US and South Korea agreed on March 3 to replace two major war games that take place every spring — the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle drills — with a shorter “Dong Maeng” or “Alliance” exercise that kicked off this week.

The move was designed to further ease tensions with the North following the dramatic detente since early 2018.

Almost 30,000 US troops are stationed in South Korea, and their annual drills with tens of thousands of South Korean soldiers have always infuriated the North — with Pyongyang condemning the manoeuvres as provocative rehearsals for invasion.

However, following the first meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore 2018, Trump raised eyebrows at a media conference by saying Washington will suspend the “very provocative” US joint military exercises with South Korea.

The two leaders also signed a vaguely worded pledge on denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

‘All-out challenge’

But the North’s official KCNA news agency has now warned that the ongoing nine-day drills are an “all-out challenge” against efforts for peace and stability.

“The suspicious activities by the US and South Korean military are a reckless violation of the joint statement signed by Washington and Pyongyang and North-South declarations that commit to ending hostilities and easing military tensions,” it said.

The flare-up comes soon after Trump and Kim Jong-un held a second summit, this time in Vietnam, but the talks broke up early with no progress toward Washington’s goal of getting the isolated country to give up its nuclear weapons.

Following the stalemate, researchers said this week that Pyongyang is rebuilding the Sohae long-range rocket site after Kim had agreed in 2018 to shut it as part of confidence-building measures. Trump said he will be “very, very disappointed” if the reports prove true.